Stand up for facts and support PolitiFact.
Now is your chance to go on the record as supporting trusted, factual information by joining PolitiFact’s Truth Squad. Contributions or gifts to PolitiFact, which is part of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Poynter Institute, are tax deductible.
I would like to contribute
Donald Trump told the audience of the Republican National Convention that ISIS wasn’t an issue before Hillary Clinton served as secretary of state.
"In 2009, pre-Hillary, ISIS was not even on the map," he said July 21. "Libya was stable. Egypt was peaceful. Iraq was seeing, really a big big reduction in violence. Iran was being choked by sanctions. Syria was somewhat under control. After four years of Hillary Clinton, what do we have? ISIS has spread across the region, and the entire world."
Trump made a similar claim pointing the finger at Clinton for the creation of ISIS in an interview that aired on 60 Minutes Sunday, a day before the convention began.
While the name ISIS (or Islamic State or Daesh, etc.) is relatively new, the leaders and founders have origins that pre-date Clinton’s time as the chief diplomat of the United States.
"There were evolutions that took place with some of the name changes," Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, previously told PolitiFact. (He has testified before Congress multiple times and works for a foundation focused on foreign policy and security.)
The roots of what today is the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, trace back to 2004, when longtime Sunni extremist Abu Mus‘ab al-Zarqawi established al-Qaida in Iraq, according to the National Counterterrorism Center.
After a U.S. airstrike killed al-Zarqawi in 2006, the group became the Islamic State of Iraq. In 2013, the group was referred to as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham and then just the Islamic State in 2014, Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism expert at the New America Foundation, has told PolitiFact.
"Al-Sham just refers to the Levant and reflects the group's increased focus on Syria," he said. "It reflects a geographic shift rather than change in political focus. It's the same group throughout."
Given the timing, Democrats are prone to blame President George W. Bush for the creation of ISIS, because al-Qaida flourished after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
Republicans seize on different moments. President Barack Obama’s decision to leave Iraq after 2011 contributed to a security vacuum that gave ISIS the chance to put down roots there, said Michael O’Hanlon, a security expert at the Brookings Institution, a centrist-to-liberal group. (O’Hanlon is one of hundreds of voluntary advisers to the Clinton campaign but has a minor role.)
You could say the blame touches both Bush, for creating a strong space for al-Qaida in Mesopotamia, and Obama, for giving the group a chance to regroup.
Trump is implying that Clinton’s actions had something to do with the birth of ISIS. Experts said his evidence is thin.
Republicans have blamed Obama for not keeping 10,000 troops in place in Iraq, which they say could have deterred the opening for ISIS. However, Obama inherited a timeline to exit Iraq from Bush, and there was no agreement to leave a large force behind.
Trump’s campaign also highlighted Clinton’s support of regime change in Syria (which didn’t work out) and Libya.
The overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi contributed to giving ISIS an opening, said Christopher Preble, a defense expert at the libertarian Cato Institute.
"Clinton's enthusiasm for regime change in Libya in 2011, which Obama endorsed, resulted in the collapse of order there, which ISIS and others have exploited," he said. "That is a fair criticism, in my opinion."
But experts said Clinton isn’t individually responsible for the group, even if various factors gave ISIS the room to grow in power.
The sources of ISIS are complex and interconnected, said John Pike, an expert on defense and director of GlobalSecurity.org, a website that provides information on defense.
"She may ‘share some of the blame,’ but there is more than enough share to go around," Pike said. "She was in no sense the singular author of the thing."
Trump said, "In 2009, pre-Hillary, ISIS was not even on the map."
The terrorist group known as ISIS was, in fact, on the map five years before Clinton became secretary of state.
It was operating under a different name.
There were several factors that allowed ISIS to gain strength, including the intervention in Libya, an Obama decision that she supported, and the Iraq invasion, which she voted for as a U.S. senator.
But Trump misleads when he pins the rise of ISIS solely on Clinton.
We rate this claim Mostly False.
60 Minutes, Donald Trump and Mike Pence interview, July 17, 2016
Donald Trump press release, "Hillary’s foreign policy: a before and after look at the world," July 10, 2016
Donald Trump press release, "Clinton’s reckless invasion of Libya, and the terror haven she left behind," July 19, 2016
Donald Trump, Speech, June 22, 2016
CNN, "Did Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton create ISIS?" Jan. 4, 2016
YouTube, U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke’s speech at Republican National Convention, July 18, 2016
New York Times, "House Benghazi Report Finds No New Evidence of Wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton," June 28, 2016
New York Times, "Hillary Clinton, ‘smart power’ and a dictator’s fall," Feb. 28, 2016
House of Representatives, Committee on Armed Services, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Oct. 10, 2013
Associated Press, "Former GOP lawyer: Military acted properly on Benghazi," May 16, 2016
Factcheck.org, "Trump’s attack on Clinton’s character,"June 22, 2016
The Fact Checker, "Fact-checking Donald Trump’s attack on Hillary Clinton," June 23, 2016
PolitiFact Florida, "Donald Trump wrongly blames Hillary Clinton for creation of ISIS," July 20, 2016
PolitiFact Florida, "Jeb Bush: 'ISIS didn't exist when my brother was president' and al-Qaida was 'wiped out,'"May 28, 2015
PolitiFact, "Donald Trump suggests Barack Obama supported ISIS, but that’s a conspiracy theory," June 15, 2016
PolitiFact Florida, "Jeb Bush selectively recounts details of Iraq and ISIS," Aug. 14, 2015
PolitiFact Florida, "Obama refused to sign plan in place to leave 10,000 troops in Iraq, Bush says," May 18, 2015
PolitiFact, "Donald Trump's Pants on Fire claim he never discussed Libya intervention," Feb. 25, 2016
Interview, Michael O’Hanlon, Brookings Institution senior fellow, July 18, 2016
Interview, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, July 18, 2016
Interview, Christopher Preble, Cato Institute vice president of defense and foreign policy studies, July 19, 2016
Interview, Austin Long, Columbia University associate professor of International and Public Affairs, July 20, 2016
Interview, Stephen Miller, Donald Trump spokesman, July 20, 2016
Interview, Josh Schwerin, Hillary Clinton spokesman, July 18, 2016
Interview, John Pike, director of Globalsecurity.org, July 20, 2016
Read About Our Process
In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.